– Taisia McMahon & Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio – Special to the Mercury News
Behind Mr. T’s liquor store on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen is a former Union Pacific Railroad structure referred to as the trestle. The trestle first disrupted the Los Gatos Creek over a half-century ago when the railroad company, with no regard for the environment, inserted 95 chemically soaked telephone poles into the creek during its construction. To this day, the decaying structure continues to block the natural flow of the creek, and it has frequently been lit on fire, putting the surrounding neighborhood at risk.
The city is appealing a judge’s decision that would require the city to commission an Environmental Impact Report, draining $450,000 from District 6 park funds and consuming costly amounts of city staff time. The purpose of this report would be to address whether the structure is historic, even though it has not been listed as a federal, state or city landmark.
Upon completion of the report and after receiving community feedback, the City Council will vote a fifth time on whether to tear it down and move forward with the new bridge.
In 2011, local government officials and the Save Our Trails organization worked together to broker a multimillion-dollar deal to purchase the right of way from Union Pacific. Subsequently, the San Jose City Council voted four separate times to move forward with the construction of a new and safer bridge, which would span the Los Gatos Creek and allow for restoration of the riparian habitat below. At this point, it seemed like we were well on our way to extending the Three Creeks Trail and finally realizing its connection to the Los Gatos Creek Trail.
The contract for bridge construction was awarded, the new bridge was built and installation was scheduled for September 2014. Unfortunately, plans were abruptly sidetracked by a lawsuit filed by a small group of railroad and historic preservation enthusiasts opposed to a new bridge. The new bridge (which is sitting in storage) was originally funded by state, not city, money. Because of the delay caused by this shortsighted lawsuit, over a million dollars in state grant funds for the Three Creeks Trail might now expire.
The plaintiffs in this case would like to rehabilitate the trestle, leaving the chemically soaked structure in the Los Gatos Creek, as an ode to the past. But, because it is in a waterway, any restoration of the existing structure would require approval by federal and state agencies. Staff at these regulatory agencies have repeatedly told the city that they do not want this structure in the water because it would negatively impact water quality as well as the surrounding riparian habitat. Their preference is to remove and replace it.
The likely scenario if this delay stands is that the city of San Jose doesn’t get a connected Three Creeks Trail, the government unnecessarily spends more than a million dollars of taxpayer money and yet another blow is dealt to a citywide trail expansion.
As a community, let’s not miss the forest for the trees — creosote-soaked as they may be.
Taisia McMahon is founder of Save Our Trails and president of Friends of the 3 Creeks Trail. Pierluigi Oliverio represents District 6 on the San Jose City Council.